Virginia has so many treasures; wonderful places where we can explore, learn, and rejuvenate ourselves. My recent retreat to Mountain Lake with my seventeen-year-old daughter was definitely worthy of a Happy Trails. Pembroke is near Blacksburg, about three hours from Charlottesville (if you take the interstate). We chose to add two hours to the drive and took the Blue Ridge Parkway. (The wildflowers and butterflies were in their glory.) The Blue Ridge Parkway runs parallel to Interstate 81 (as does Route 11), and it is easy to leave the Parkway (or Route 11) if you decide you need to travel at a faster pace on Interstate 81. On the Parkway, we saw more bicycles and motorcycles than we did cars, and we had the extra time to enjoy the slower speed.
This summer was a new experience at my house because all three of my teenagers were gainfully employed for the first time. Scheduling any kind of family adventure was honestly impossible. One of the luxuries we have is to break it up and take separate adventures with the kids, following their interests. Emily had a busy summer with a small window of time for a break. We both wanted to go somewhere quiet for a few days where we could read without distractions. Having some trails to hike was another priority because she is in training for Philmont. Philmont is a Boy Scout ranch in New Mexico with an extremely challenging, rugged terrain and elevations as high as 12,000 feet. (Yes, Emily is a girl-and a Boy Scout-thanks to Venturing Crew #79.)
Mountain Lake turned out to be the perfect place for us. It is one of only two natural, freshwater lakes in Virginia. The lake's elevation, at 4000 feet, is the highest east of the Mississippi. Its depth is over 100 feet. The water is clear and cold. When you are a guest at Mountain Lake, any of the plentiful boats are available to you at no charge. We had our choice of canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats. So, after a long and fantastic hike, we could take a boat out and jump in the lake to cool off. What a life!
We went to Mountain Lake during the dog days of August. Their accommodations do not offer air conditioning (nor television, thank you very much). Hot as the summer of 2003 has been, I did not feel the need for air conditioning while we were there. Amazingly, the mornings were such that we used our fireplace (firewood provided at no charge) to get rid of the chill. There was also the heated outdoor pool if the lake was too cold.
The trails were fantastic. We hiked for three hours one day and five
hours the next. I took four rolls of film capturing the wildflowers, butterflies,
mushrooms, and abundant springs that seem to pop up everywhere, especially
along the Bald Knob trail that takes you up to 4363 feet. The rhododendrons
were huge and plentiful, and in all the mountains I have explored, I have
never seen more ferns. The trails were well marked, but I do recommend
you purchase the $3.00 "Complete Guide to Trails at Mountain Lake."
If you are serious about the hiking, you will want the fine points this
guide provides. There was a free trail guide, but it didn't give us enough
detailed information. I will admit that my trekking poles were a big help,
especially on the parts of the trails that went straight up and down.
But, I was only about ten minutes behind my daughter who set a fast pace
for almost all of the fourteen trails available, and she wanted to do
the ones rated the "Most Difficult" first.
Mountain Lake has a variety of accommodation options. You can stay in a room at the hotel, which is a beautiful old stone building constructed in 1936. Over the years, cottages and "multi-units" have been added. We had a multi-unit with a cathedral ceiling, fireplace, refrigerator, microwave, Jacuzzi, comfortable sofa, two big beds and private porch. We had just what we wanted.
If you have to have a TV, there are three at the resort. The first is in the activities barn (with lots more fun things to do than watch TV, like shuffleboard, foosball, pinball, pool, etc.). The second is in the movie room, and the third is in the bar. There are also lots of card and board games available at no charge to guests. There is a fantastic library with lots of books and two computers in the process of being upgraded to high-speed internet. There is a spa with a hot tub and sauna. And, if you want a massage, you can get one for $60 by a qualified masseuse.
Other free activities are scheduled regularly throughout the day. I took a hayride through the oldest part of the forest, listened to the storyteller at the teepee who taught little kids how to make s'mores over a big campfire, and took the pontoon boat tour that told the history of Mountain Lake. I visited their natural history museum and learned about the wonderful wilderness conservation programs in action at this non-profit endowment. Outside, you can find oversized chess and checkerboards, a tennis court, volley ball & badminton nets and lots of fun benches everywhere just to sit and enjoy.
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